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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Top-10 AFC Championship Games of All-Time

Top-10 AFC Championship Games of All-Time

Top 11 AFC Championship games!
Publish Date: 01/27/2024
Fact checked by: Mark Lewis

The AFC Championship games of the past have been exciting, controversial and with a few blow outs sprinkled in for good measure. Today we will take a look at the Top 10 AGC Championship games of all time.

Criteria

It has to be an outstanding game, this criteria is a no-brainer. You know you are getting some Elway, Manning and Brady on this list. All-time great franchises like the Steelers, Raiders, Broncos and Dolphins.

10) 1975 Pittsburgh 16  Oakland 10

Maybe the greatest rivalry in NFL history was the Steelers vs. Raiders during the decade of the 70’s. The Violence these teams unleashed on each other was unreal, if these teams were to play today, they would probably all be suspended. The controversy was the calling card of this rivalry, and the 1975 Championship game gave us just that. The turf at Three Rivers Stadium was slick and icy, which would have seemed to be an advantage for the Steelers, who won games with their defense and run game.

The Raiders were a vertical passing team, and the icy field would most certainly hurt them. Al Davis even years later was convinced that the Steelers intentionally left the field uncovered to gain an advantage. The Raiders played from behind almost the entire game and trailed 16-7 in the fourth quarter. Of course, as the Raiders were known to do they made a comeback which fell just short as a Stabler to Branch pass fell complete in the end zone sending the Steelers to the Super Bowl with a 16-10 win.

Video: 1975 Raiders at Steelers AFC Championship

1975 Raiders at Steelers AFC Championship

9) 1972 Miami 21  Pittsburgh 17

The Miami Dolphins were the road team in this game despite being undefeated. The NFL used to rotate which division would get to host the playoff games, so with an undefeated record, the Dolphins traveled to Pittsburgh to take on the upstart Steelers. The Steelers the week prior had beaten the Oakland Raiders 13-7 on the “Immaculate Reception”. The Steelers came out hot and immediately went up 7-0, but the Dolphins responded just before halftime to go to the locker room in a 7-7 tie.

The Steelers took a brief lead of 10-7 in the third quarter, from their Dolphins coach Don Shula pulled starter Earl Morrall and put in Bob Griese, Griese had been injured early in the season. Griese came in and hit WR Paul Warfield on a big 52-yard pass which was followed by a short Jim Kiick touchdown giving the Dolphins a lead they would not relinquish. The Steelers just made to many mistakes to beat a veteran team like the Dolphins.

Video: Miami - Pittsburgh AFC Championship

Miami – Pittsburgh AFC Championship

8) 1995 Pittsburgh 20  Indianapolis 16

The Colts had slipped into the playoffs with a 9-7 record and were missing their best player Marshall Faulk who had been injured. The Steelers were big favorites, but the game ended with one last drive.  The Colts had one final chance as QB Jim Harbaugh marched his way down the field to the Pittsburgh 29-yard line with 5 seconds remaining.

On the last play of the game, Harbaugh fired a Hail Mary pass, hoping for a miracle, he almost got it. The ball was tipped around and fell into the chest of Colts receiver Aaron Bailey. It looked like Bailey had caught the ball, but the ball slipped through his hands and hit the turf. The Steelers returned to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1979, and the Colts ended up being a team who just missed becoming one of the great underdog stories in NFL history.

Video: Greatest Games of the 1990's

Greatest Games of the 1990’s

7) 1987 Denver 38  Cleveland 33

In a rematch of a game, we will talk about a bit later, the Broncos pounded the Browns in the first half taking a 21-3 lead. The second half was dramatic as the Browns mounted a breathtaking comeback behind QB Bernie Kosar, and of course, John Elway responded with a late 4th quarter TD drive, giving the Broncos a 38-31 lead. Kosar led the Browns in the final minutes all the way down to the Denver 8 yard line.

With the ball on the Denver 8-yard line with 1:12 remaining in the fourth quarter, it looked like the Browns would return the favor to Denver from the previous season. Kosar handed the ball to Byner, who seemed to have a clear path to the end zone. As Byner reached the 2-yard line, Broncos defensive back Jeremiah Castille stripped Byner of the football and recovered the fumble.

Byner never saw Castille, as Slaughter missed his assignment to seal off Castille, giving Byner the hole to the end zone. NBC announcer Dick Enberg said during the broadcast: “And wasn’t it ironic that Denver got the ball back at the 2-yard line?

Video: Final 3 minutes 1987 AFC Title Byner Fumble

Final 3 minutes 1987 AFC Title Byner Fumble

6) 1977 Denver 20  Oakland 17

The Broncos won their first-ever AFC West title in 1977 and had developed a great rivalry with the Oakland Raiders. The teams split the two games played during the season, each winning on the road. The controversy was a huge part of this game. In the third quarter, the Broncos were ahead 7-3 and had a first and goal from the Oakland 2-yard line. Broncos running back Rob Lytle attempted to dive into the end zone, where he was hit by Raider safety, Jack Tatum. The ball popped loose, and the Raiders recovered the football.

Or so they thought. Linesman Ed Marion blew the play dead, ruling that forward progress had been halted. The replay showed that Lytle had fumbled as soon as he was contacted, well short of the goal line. It was a huge factor in the game, giving the Broncos a 14-3 lead. The Raiders, behind QB Ken Stabler, mounted their usual comeback but came up just short, losing 20-17.

Video: 1977 Raiders at Broncos AFC Championship

1977 Raiders at Broncos AFC Championship

5) 1980 Oakland 34  San Diego 27

The Chargers were expected to win this game behind QB Dan Fouts wide open attacking offense. The Raiders were seen as a team on the decline. Early in the season the Riders had lost starting QB Dan Pastorini because of a broken leg. In stepped backup QB Jim Plunkett, Plunkett had been considered a bust in failed attempts at New England and San Fransisco. In Oakland, though Plunkett reclaimed the magic he had while winning the Heisman Trophy at Stanford.

The Raiders jumped out to an early 21-7 lead and never looked back. The most telling part of the game was with 6 minutes left when the Raiders started a drive clinging to a 34-27 lead. The Chargers never got the ball back as the Raiders chewed up the entire clock ending the game with a 34-27 win.

Video: 1980 Oakland Raiders AFC Championship game at San Diego Chargers

1980 Oakland Raiders AFC Championship game at San Diego Chargers

4) 2021 AFCChampionship Cincinnati 27  Kansas City 24

Eli Apple was instrumental in beginning of one of the greatest comebacks ever seen in NFL playoff history. Trailing 21-10 on fourth and goal in the final play of the first half, Apple managed to tackle Tyreek Hill just short of scoring on fourth down and ensure that Bengals’ deficit would stay at 18 points.

Cincinnati returned after trailing 21-3 with five minutes left until halftime and tied it thanks to two scoring drives led by Joe Burrow in the fourth quarter. They took an unexpected three-point lead before forcing Kansas City into overtime when Sam Hubbard sacked Mahomes on consecutive plays at the end of regulation time.

Kansas City won the overtime coin toss yet gave Cincinnati back possession when Vonn Bell picked off Patrick Mahomes – leading directly to Evan McPherson’s game-winning field goal and sending them into their first Super Bowl since 1988.

Video: Bengals Game Winning Drive vs. Chiefs in 2021 AFC Championship

Bengals Game Winning Drive vs. Chiefs in 2021 AFC Championship

3) 2006 Indianapolis 38  New England 34

The Patriots had owned the Colts in the team’s first two playoff meetings, but this game would be very different. The first half did look like the team’s first two meetings as the Patriots jumped out to a 21-6 halftime lead. Then Peyton Manning got hot. The game was on the line with under three minutes left on the clock. This game will always be remembered for Manning leading the Colts on a drive that took very little time off the clock.

Within 19 seconds, the Colts were at the New England 11-yard line, looking to take the lead. The Colts used the clock wisely, winding the clock down to exactly 1 minute remaining, before Joseph Addai ran untouched from 3 yards out, giving the Colts their first lead of the game. The Patriots had one last chance, and with Tom Brady at the helm, you just knew they would strike. However, there would be no miracle for New England.

Marlin Jackon intercepted a Brady pass in Colts territory, as Indianapolis and Manning finally got the proverbial monkey off its back.

Video: Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning: 2006 AFC Championship | Patriots vs Colts | NFL Full Game

Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning: 2006 AFC Championship | Patriots vs Colts | NFL Full Game

2) 2018 AFC Championship: Patriots 37, Chiefs 31

Tom Brady’s ninth AFC championship game win came at the expense of Patrick Mahomes, who would likely have found himself leading his Kansas City Chiefs to another Super Bowl if it hadn’t been for Brady leading them on an impressive 13-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Rex Burkhead scoring 2-yard touchdown run in overtime.

Moments earlier, Brady had been saved by Dee Ford being called for offsides on the play that saw him throw an interception to Charvarius Ward. On the next play, however, Brady found Rob Gronkowski open for a 25-yard gain that set up their go-ahead touchdown before Harrison Butker tied it up with 11 seconds left in regulation play with his game-tying field goal attempt.

Video: NFL on CBS - 2019 AFC Championship Intro (Patriots vs Chiefs) - Extended Version

NFL on CBS – 2019 AFC Championship Intro (Patriots vs Chiefs) – Extended Version

1) 1986 Denver 23  Cleveland 20 (OT)

This game is just known as “The Drive.” The Browns had taken a 20-13 lead with under 5 minutes to play. The kickoff after the Browns touchdown was mishandled leaving the Broncos at the two-yard line. Even for the master of the comeback, John Elway this task looked too daunting. The Browns helped the cause, though, when they decided to play a soft zone defense, allowing the Broncos to move the ball down the field gradually.

With only 39 seconds remaining, Elway and Jackson teamed up on a 5-yard touchdown reception to tie the game and force overtime. The Browns won the toss but failed to get a first down on their opening drive. They wouldn’t see the football again. Elway led the Broncos on a 60-yard drive, which was capped off by a 33-yard field goal from Rick Karlis, sending the Broncos to the Super Bowl.

Video:

“The Drive” Broncos vs. Browns 1986 AFC Championship Game | NFL Full Game

Honorable mentions

1981 Cincinnati 27  San Diego 7

This wasn’t an outstanding game, but remarkable was how the Bengals — led by quarterback Ken Anderson in subfreezing temperatures with a -59 degree wind chill factor. — performed in what became known as “The Freezer Bowl.” Anderson led them to their inaugural Super Bowl championship game by throwing two touchdown passes with an astounding passer rating more than double his counterpart, Hall-of-Famer Dan Fouts (Hall of Fame QB).

1994) San Diego 17 Pittsburgh 13

The Steelers entered this game as huge favorites against the Chargers, who nobody expected to make it that far. The Steelers can out and dominated the first half of the game taking a 13-3 lead. The Chargers defense stiffened led by NFL Legend Junior Seau and shut the Steelers out the rest of the game. The Chargers took the lead for good with just over 5 minutes left when QB Stan Humphries dropped back to pass and found receiver Tony Martin, who had a step on Steelers cornerback Tim McKyer.

Humphries fired a perfect pass that Martin hauled in over a leaping McKyer, giving San Diego its first lead of the game. The Steelers had one last gasp as Steeler QB Neil O’Donnell led the Steelers down the field. With the Steelers facing a fourth and goal from the 3-yard line, O’Donnell dropped back and threw a pass to Barry Foster at the goal line. Linebacker Dennis Gibson batted down the pass, and the Chargers had pulled off the upset. It would be the only time in the Chargers history that they would reach the Super Bowl

2012 New England 23 Baltimore 20

This game was a battle of a high-powered offense against a physical, hard-nosed defense. And it came down to that matchup: the Ravens had a 20-16 lead, but Tom Brady marched the Patriots the length of the field, ending with Brady sneaking into the end zone from a yard out, giving the Patriots a 23-20 lead.

With time running out Ravens QB Joe Flacco led the Ravens into field goal range as time was running out. The game looked like it would go to overtime as Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff lined up to kick a 29-yard field goal. Somehow, Cundiff shanked the kick, and the Patriots had averted a sudden death overtime and advanced to yet another Super Bowl.

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